Tuesday, 5 February 2013

You Can't Do That! Can You...?

The laws associated with photography are quite clear, but not widely known.  What can and can’t be done regarding photographs and photography seems to be clouded in confusion.  I speak to a lot of people who are either unaware of what is and isn’t allowed or hold a belief that is the polar opposite of what is actually true!  This post aims to dispel a few myths…

I’ve bought it so it’s mine!
People often believe that because they have purchased a printed photo from me that it is theirs and they are entitled to do with it as they please.  I’m referring to scanning of course.  This is not the case.  Yes, the individual copy of that photograph is yours, but only that copy.  If you would like another copy of a photograph you will need to buy it.  Ownership of any photograph remains with the photographer and only he/she can make copies of that photograph.

The only exception here is by giving (usually written) permission to someone else.  In this case there would usually be some form of compensation.  I often sell digital copies of photographs to people and give them permission to print.  In this case ownership of the photo remains with the photographer who still retains all his original rights.  The only right the customer has here is to print off multiple copies.

It’s a theme that runs through this post, but you do not automatically own any rights to pictures of you unless you took them yourself.

It’s on the internet so it’s public property!
This is absolutely not the case.  A photograph will always remain the property of the photographer and copyright will remain with him/her unless assigned to someone else.  This is as much the case with photos you may find on the internet.

You may not save, copy, edit, reproduce, print or in any way use an image, whole or in part, that you find on the internet without express consent from the copyright owner.  Basically, all you’re allowed to do with pictures you see on the internet is look at them!

That goes for things you come across in Google Images, and photos you see on photographers’ portfolios on Facebook.  Even if you’re in the picture!

You can’t show other people my picture!
I own the picture and can do (almost) whatever I want with it.  I am able to copy, print, display and even sell photos of you.  And I don’t even need your permission!  The only limitation here is that I must not use your photo in a defamatory or offensive way.

Generally, the only way I would use your images is in my own advertising or portfolio to show my work to other potential customers.  But it may be the case that I might submit a photo to a competition or other gallery where the public would see your photo.  This is perfectly allowable and doesn’t require any special permission from you.  There is a provision in the law however for you to request that I do not do this if you have commissioned the photos from me.  So if you ask me not to, I won’t.

In reality, I do have permission from all my customers anyway as part of the booking form signed by everyone who uses me.  And realistically, even though I don’t have to, I will always ask for specific (verbal) permission before using any photos in this way.  It’s just polite apart from anything else!

You can’t take my picture without my permission!
If you are in a public place, you can have your photo taken without giving your permission or even having been informed.  I can snap away to my heart’s content on the streets, in a park or on the beach and I don’t need to tell you I’m doing it.  As previously mentioned, you don’t have any rights to the pictures.  Full ownership and copyright would remain with me. I am able to copy, print, display and sell the photos (again with the same limitations regarding defamation and offence) without any payment to you.

It’s not something I’m particularly into personally, but there are plenty of photographers out there who do this a lot and are quite within their rights to do so.

But surely that’s not the case for children!
Children have no additional rights over adults.  Everything I’ve said before applies equally to photos of children.  I can (if I want) sit in a park and take photographs of children.  I can then display these photos on my website or Facebook page as part of my portfolio.  The same defamation exception obviously applies and anything deemed to be inappropriate or indecent would not be allowed.  But the principal is exactly the same.

Of course I would never do this without first getting at least verbal permission from the parents.  Regardless of what the law says, my reputation is much more important to me than any individual photo.  And I have been reliably informed that if I did this I would very likely be arrested on suspicion of any number of child related offences.  No charges would be brought, but I’d rather not have my equipment seized and spend a night in the cells…


I hope this has helped dispel a few myths and set straight a few incorrectly held beliefs.  I also want to make it clear that, although the law is largely on my side, my reputation is very important to me.  I would never intentionally do anything to upset a customer, regardless of what the law allows me to do.